For the B1G Conference, this may have been the “Golden Decade” of college basketball, and here on Pac-12 Friday, we’re going to look at very special group of top teams in the sport’s history. Not only does this list include three national champions, every team in this week’s analysis finished Top 5 of the sabermetric rating system. That’s quite an achievement, and we actually had to expand the list a little to accommodate it. Enjoy!
Indiana started the season No. 1 in the polls and won the B1G with a 13-5 conference record. Despite losing in the Sweet 16, the Hoosiers still finished No. 7 in the Associated Press poll and No. 2 in the SRS. Meanwhile, in one of life’s great mysteries, Iowa started and finished the season unranked in the poll—but the Hawkeyes went to the Final Four and ended up atop the SRS as the best sabermetric team in the country. Iowa had gone just 10-8 in conference play, but the record rarely tells the whole story, does it?
10. 1985 Michigan Wolverines (26-4)
Going 16-2 in conference play to win the league title, the Wolverines entered the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 2 in the country on a 16-game winning streak. However, Michigan ran into the miracle team from Villanova in the second round of March Madness, and suddenly the season was over after a 59-55 loss. Still, considering the Wolverines were unranked to start the season, it was a great year, anyway, as the team finished third in the SRS overall.
9. 1985 Illinois Fightin’ Illini (26-9)
Illinois finished No. 2 in the SRS after starting the season ranked No. 2 in the AP poll. Maybe going 12-6 in B1G play to finish second was a disappointment, but the Illini still won five of six games against ranked opponents during the season to reach the Sweet 16 nonetheless. The team’s defense was the fifth stingiest in the country, giving up just 57.2 points per game all season. Ranked 12th when the NCAA Tournament began, Illinois beat No. 19 Georgia in the second round before losing to No. 6 Georgia Tech in the regional semifinals.
8. 1984 Illinois Fightin’ Illini (26-5)
Starting the season unranked, Illinois won the B1G with a 15-3 conference record and finished the season No. 3 in the SRS and No. 6 in the AP poll. This was the last season before the NCAAs expanded to 64 teams, so the Illini beat Villanova in their first tourney matchup to reach the Sweet 16, where they topped No. 11 Maryland. In the Elite 8, Illinois dropped a 54-51 heartbreaker to No. 3 Kentucky. The Illini had previously lost to Kentucky by two points in late December as well, making the final defeat twice as crushing, really.
7. 1987 Iowa Hawkeyes (30-5)
Despite a 14-4 conference mark, the Hawkeyes finished third in the B1G. However, Iowa was 4th overall in the SRS for the full season and ended up ranked No. 6 in the AP poll, too. That’s a pretty tough conference! The Hawkeyes actually reached No. 1 in the AP poll in late January and then beat then-No. 3 Indiana (see below) once atop the poll. But Iowa lost four conference matchups after that. When March Madness rolled around, though, the Hawkeyes reached the Elite 8 before losing to No. 1-ranked UNLV by just three points.
6. 1987 Indiana Hoosiers (30-4)
This may seem low to rank a national champion, but we did warn you how good this group of teams was at the start. Symmetrically, Indiana began the season ranked No. 3 and finished it ranked No. 3—with a No. 3 finish in the SRS, too. In the middle, the Hoosiers won the B1G with a 15-3 record, and then Indiana ran the table in the NCAAs, beating No. 17 Duke, No. 1 UNLV, and No. 10 Syracuse in the process. The final victory over the Orangemen was extremely tense and exciting, as was the Final Four win over the Runnin’ Rebels.
5. 1981 Indiana Hoosiers (26-9)
Our second national championship team on this list so far, the Hoosiers began the season ranked No. 3 and finished it ranked No. 9 while topping the SRS overall in the process. After two losses in late December, Indiana went through January unranked, but it recovered to go 14-4 in conference play and claim the B1G title. The Hoosiers drew No. 18 Maryland in their first NCAA game but survived to make a run to the Final Four. There, Indiana beat No. 4 LSU in the semifinals before topping No. 6 North Carolina in the finals.
4. 1986 Michigan Wolverines (28-5)
This season was very similar to the 1985 season for the Wolverines: Preseason No. 3 in the poll followed by a 14-4 conference record for the B1G title and an early exit from the NCAAs. Michigan ended up ranked No. 5 while finishing No. 4 in the SRS. But the Wolverines didn’t even make it to the Sweet 16 after losing to unranked Iowa State by three points in the second round of the tourney. Michigan posted a 5-1 mark against ranked teams during the year but couldn’t find its way past the Cyclones when it mattered most.
3. 1988 Michigan Wolverines (26-8)
These Wolverines didn’t win the B1G crown, finishing second with a 13-5 recored in conference play, but the team did make it to the Sweet 16 after the disappointments in 1985 and 1986 noted above. Finishing No. 5 in the SRS, Michigan was a Top 10 team in the poll almost all season—starting ninth and finishing tenth. In the NCAAs, the Wolverines beat Boise State and Florida State to reach the regionals before losing there to No. 7 North Carolina.
2. 1989 Illinois Fightin’ Illini (31-5)
This team was very famous for going 23-1 with its team leader (Kendall Gill) in the lineup. The only game Illinois lost that Gill played in was the Final Four semifinal against Michigan. But we digress—the Illini began the season ranked No. 9 before finishing No. 4 in the SRS and No. 3 in the AP poll. A 16-0 start got them to No. 1 in the poll before Gill was hurt. When he returned, Illinois won 10 straight games to reach the Final Four. The Illini had beaten Michigan twice already by double digits each time, so the 83-81 loss was crushing for them.
1. 1989 Michigan Wolverines (30-7)
This remains to this day the only Michigan team to win the NCAA Tournament, and it did it by the slimmest of margins while finishing No. 2 in the SRS. The Wolverines started No. 3 in the poll, but they were 10th by the end of the year after a third-place finish in B1G play with a 12-6 conference mark. However, Michigan—famously led by interim coach Steve Fisher—won five of its six NCAA games by single digits, including two Final Four games by just three points total. The overtime final win remains controversial for its officiating.